During World War I, it was the accepted social norm that women belonged in the kitchen. They took the back seat to men, specializing in cooking and cleaning. They were the caretaker of the home and the raiser of the children. Catherine Barkley is an impeccable example of this social norm in Ernest Hemingway's, A Farewell to Arms. Her submissive nature is key to the existence of the story. So important, in fact, that the story may not be at all possible without it. She submits to Lieutenant Henry's flirtatious passes immediately, triggering their romantic relationship before he injures his leg. She also totally dedicates herself to preserving the well being of Henry. Her behavior in both of these circumstances is typical for a woman of her time.
Hemingway spends as little time as possible focusing on Henry's courting of Catherine. The relationship between Catherine and Henry is formed, and takes off almost instantly. She immediately begins to plead with him to treat her well and be good to her. In doing so, she willingly fills the role of the typical woman of the era. She surrenders all the pull she may have in the relationship, admitting that he wears the pants, so to speak. Hemingway does this to accelerate the plot, and to draw attention to Henry as the "hero" of the story. Her submissive demeanor takes away from her credibility as a thinking character, as she simply agrees with whatever Henry suggests.
The idea of a submissive leading lady is ideal for Hemingway's style of writing. His sentences are simple and hide nothing. He prefers the reader to know exactly what's going on, and a more elaborate woman would make this nearly impossible. Instead, the focus remains on Henry, with Catherine acting as more of a support for him. She is something that effects and shapes his thoughts instead of forming her own. Hemingway uses this as a tool to keep his story telling easy to comprehend.
Towards the middle of the book, Catherine continues...
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